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New Left Review I/71, January-February 1972


Norman Geras

Althusser’s Marxism: An Account and Assessment

In a body of work which has received considerable attention in France and elsewhere and become one of the focal points of contemporary Marxist controversy, Louis Althusser has registered the necessity for a reading of Marx at once critical and rigorous. Critical: the assimilation of Marx’s important discoveries can only be the product of a major theoretical effort which, so far from taking for granted that the whole of Marx forms a coherent and valid unity, attempts to distinguish in Marx between theoretical deficiencies, terminological ambiguities and ideological ‘survivals’ on the one hand, and truly scientific concepts on the other. Rigorous: the condition for the fruitful application and further elaboration of these concepts is a strict and scrupulous regard for their definitions, their implications, their scope and their boundaries, for what they exclude as much as for what they include. Only by dint of this will Marxist research escape the pitfalls of taking these concepts for what they are not and of remaining satisfied with the inadequate substitutes which can masquerade in their place.

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